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Discussion-- The Letters

Series/Special. Andrew and Stephen Schlesinger present a collection of letters from historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., their father. (Stereo)




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  CSPAN    Discussion-- The Letters    Series/Special. Andrew and Stephen Schlesinger present a  
   collection of letters from historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.,...  

    December 7, 2013
    8:00 - 9:01am EST  

with no privacy and no security. that is a bad situation for everyone. >> mr. alan rusbridger, thank you for coming here. >> thank you. >> order. could i have the commissioner? ..
>> i'm here not to represent my claim or my issues. my husband and i are here to make sure that this panel and that everyone that will listen to us will understand that cases like my own and, unfortunately, like mrs. mcnutt are not isolated. i personally have dealt with at this time almost 1,000 cases just in the last six months of veterans and their spouses and children who are dealing with complex claims that are being denied over and over and over again or being lowballed and zero rated. >> this weekend on c-span, a house veterans affairs subcommittee hearing on dealing with the backlog and processing disability claims. watch this morning at 10 eastern. on c-span2's booktv, taking stock of the grand old party. later tonight, just past
midnight at 12:15 a.m. and on c-span3's american history tv, 50 years ago as a nation grieved for a lost president, lbj stepped into the oval office. sunday at 3. >> here are some programs to watch this weekend on booktv. at 4 p.m. eastern, jack cashel talks about his book, "if i had a son: race, guns and the railroading of george zimmerman. ." tomorrow at 8:45 eastern, newt gingrich talks about his most recent book, "breakout: pioneers of the future, prison guards of the past and epic battle that will decide america's fate." then at 6 p.m. eastern in light of the ongoing battles over the federal budget in congress, we take a look at several book withs that have recently aired on booktv about the u.s.
economy and visit for this weekend's television schedule. >> next on booktv, andrew and stephen schlessinger present a collection of letters from their father. arthur schlesinger jr. was a special assistant to president kennedy, and his letters include correspondences with the kennedy family, lyndon johnson, henry kissinger and william f. buckley. this is about an hour. [applause] >> well, welcome, and thank you for that nice welcoming applause. and i want to thank you all for joining us for what i know is going to be a very special evening. as many of you know this year, vanderbilt welcomed john meacham with, i would say, wide arms and
a very warm embrace as a distinguished visiting professor. [applause] and i think john has done well, and i hope we can take the visiting off pretty soon. [laughter] i would say that our political science students are just thrilled to have such a unique opportunity to learn from this accomplished historical scholar and celebrated to have. john's most recent book, "thomas jefferson: the art of power," rose to the coveted number one spot on "the new york times" bestseller list and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the times book review and the be washington post. and "the washington post." his best selling biography of andrew jackson, "american lion," earned him a pulitzer prize. as executive vice president of random house john, as you might expect, is involved in the creation and publication of fascinating books that top the
most interesting and influential reading lists. his passion for learning, discovery, his exper or tease and his engagement in the literary world also benefit the university greatly by making it possible for us to bring exciting events to nashville like this talk based on the letters of arthur schlessinger jr. i am proud to have john as my partner in this year's lecture series. tonight he has invited stephen and andrew schlessinger to share with us the labor of love involved in reviewing approximately 35,000 letters written by their father, the late, great arthur schlessinger jr., to create this remarkable book. we're also pleased to welcome tom brokaw back to campus. [applause]
tom was honored when he delivered an inspiring talk to our graduating seniors in 2012, and we are thrilled to have him back on campus for this exciting and interesting conversation. now, without further ado, i'm going to turn things over to john and thank him for arranging this conversation among these truly extraordinary men who share an exthe tensive finish extensive and personal understanding of the remarkable life and work of arthur arthurlessingier -- schlesinger jr. [applause] >> thank you, boss. [laughter] i want to say quickly our three guests and all of you who have taken the trouble to come and the time at this our to talk about tease issues may represent -- these issues may represent the greatest gathering of insight and talent at vanderbilt with the possible exception of when nick zeppos
dines alone. [laughter] moving on. >> first you call him boss with, and then you suck up to him. [laughter] >> purely outrageous. as an episcopalian, we find the middle way, tom. [laughter] 53 autumns ago in the 1960 general election for president, john kennedy said this: if by a liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their school, their jobs, their civil rights and civil liberties -- someone who believes we can breakthrough the stalemate and suspicion that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by liberal, then i'm proud to say i'm a liberal. as andrew and stephen write in
their introduction to their father's letters, arthur schlessinger jr. helped kennedy craft those words. the letters, which are a marvelous book, chronicles the late historian's views really from world war for through the -- world war ii through the second iraq war. you can read letters from adelaide stevenson, john kennedy, robert kennedy, henry kissinger, william f. buckley jr., al gore, gore vidal, jacqueline kennedy and naturally -- given arthur's interest in american history -- groucho marx, sammy davis jr. and bianca jagger. alexandra, arthur's wife, is not here, so we can mention that one. to a detractor who accused arthur of being a communist
sympathizer, he wrote: the facts i have cited should relieve your mind. if not, i can only commend you to the nearest sigh psychiatris. [laughter] i should note quickly that arthur had a keen appreciation for two tennessee exports, andrew jackson and jack daniel's. [laughter] as john seigenthaler and tom also appreciate, arthur did not believe that white wine was sufficient unto the day given difficulties of an afternoon. [laughter] andrew is the author of veritas, the harvard college and the be american experience, and with stephen is co-editor of their father's journals, 1952-2000. at the abc news documentary division, andrew's films won two emmys and a writer's guild award. stephen has served as director of the world policy institute at the new school and was publisher of the world policy junior. he's been a staff writer at time
and been a speech writer to governor mario cuomo. he's also the author of "act of creation: the founding of the united nations," which received a harry s. truman book award. and our friend and arthur's friend, tom brokaw, play a key role in this discussion. tom's career is one of the great sagas of american journalism. he's a little like wayne gretzky. [laughter] have you been compared to gretzky? >> very little. i can still stand on skates, but that's as far as i can -- >> well, gretzky once said he always skated to where the puck was going to be as opposed to where it had been. brokaw has done that from generation to generation. he covered civil rights in atlanta early, he was an early reporter on the reagan b story in 1966, he was as anchor and managing editor of nbc nightly news the critical figure for a quarter century, the only man in the history of nbc to host the
trifecta, toed show, nightly news and meet the press. in new york media circles that's, in fact, the holy trinity. [laughter] the divinity school is off on that. [laughter] he was the only american network anchor in berlin for the collapse of the wall. it's unclear whether that was positive. [laughter] is he laughing? as an author he's captured the sacrifices of the greatest generation, coining that phrase and moving it into the culture. he's grounded, generous, kind and wise. this is a great man. he proves that grace and skill are not incompatible. he played a valuable role inning -- [inaudible] and large swaths of american viewers still turn to him. he's just finished work on a landmark documentary, the assassination of president kennedy, which is a to to found piece of work, and we're deeply
grateful that he is here. so an to arthur, who would want more air time. [laughter] >> you know, i think this is absolutely true. in ways this book is a mini history of the liberal movement from 1945-2005, and it reflects his commitment to liberal ideas, an activist government, the idea of public expenditures, civil rights and diplomacy other war. and one of the profound things that i think both my brother and i found in going through thousands of these letters is his continuous and his almost, you know, demanding commitment to this idea that if we're going
to change american society for the were better, we have to be willing to fight for these ideals. and as a result, you know, he had feuds, he had breaks with his friends, he had real confrontations because he kept this faith irregardless of the time or the crisis that he was facing. so, yes, he was -- that issue of activist government is, i would say, summarizes his notion about what liberalism's all about. >> i mean, i think my brother probably covered that pretty well. [laughter] >> no cain and abel problem here. [laughter] >> especially from the sons' point of view was the consistency and tenacity of his point of view, that he could not be moved. >> well, one of the things we
discovered in collecting these letters was the theme of promoting the liberal agenda just was the obvious theme of all his work. and once we got -- put out the totality of the letters together, it totally defined his life. we were within -- we were in the bubble, you know? but once we collected the letters, we could see that his letters to his friends, every letter is somehow trying to influence either a writer, why don't you write a book about this or make that point or all tease letters to democratic politicians, democratic presidents from -- i don't know if he advised harry truman, but he did have an -- >> they had an exchange, actually. >> yeah, he did. because my father wrote a book about the mcarthur connecticut, and harry wrote him a letter and said i didn't want to write you before your book came out, because i didn't want anybody to think i was influencing your attitude on this controversy. as opposed to a president today.
>> was the -- now, talk about the beginning of the liberal sensibility. was it genetic? >> yes. if you read the introduction to the book, my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father's father was a professor of american history at harvard who came from zien ya, ohio, and was educated at ohio state, and his -- he had, he gaunted, i think, around 1910. he had a couple of sisters who were teachers. his -- my great grandfather was a german immigrant, and they just -- and there's an interesting speech that my grandfather gave at ohio state in 1926 where he said even back hen in 1926 he said -- then in 1926 we're being overwhelmed by uniformity. you know, the corporations and the banks and everything like that, they're trying to squeeze the heart out of you. and this was -- and also my -- i was going to say one more thing and that's my father's theory of the cycles of of american
history, that you have liberal periods followed by conservative periods roughly every 30 years, that was my grandfather's theory. and so he picked up a lot of his, even his historical academic structures from my grandfather. >> stephen? >> both our relatives on my mother's side and my father's side were all from the midwest, so there was a kind of prairie populism that they brought to the east when we were growing up. and it was genetic. it was almost, you know -- >> part of the thing, jon, that's important especially given the current political climate in which we're so sliced and diced in so many ways that, in fact, in the post-war years although there was a very strong conservative current running through the country with mccarthy and bob taft from ohio and so on, a lot of the young people who came back from that war were very much in the jet stream with arthur about what liberalism should and do because they had been witness,
obviously, and they were fighting in europe and japan about what happens when it goes the other way. so there was an entirely different climate about the place of liberals. in 15 seconds i'll tell you the story i was just telling stephen. right after the war, our family moved to a are remote part of south dakota where they built this enormous hydroelectric dam in the middle of nowhere at extraordinary expense and changed the lives of everybody who went through there. the first can kids who were going to college, went to work there, they're now coming back at doctors and engineers and other things. and that was very much a part of the currents that were running through america in those days. i especially want to say something just to -- about the importance of historians who get out and touch and feel their subjects as well. one of the first accounts that arthur gives in his book is that he's working for the office of war information, that's what it was called. >> right. >> uh-huh. >> and he was assigned to the south. and he'd not been here before.
he'd grown up in ohio, then he went to harvard. and he was -- help me out, guys -- but he was completely taken with the whole idea of being called an egghead. [laughter] and if anybody were going to be called one, it would be arthur in those days. he was a classic harvard professor. but he said he was stunned by what he saw when with he came down here when it came to race. and frankly, that was very hopeful to him later on when he was writing about the place of government and liberalism and the civil rights movement and how important it was. he got onto it a lot earlier than john f. kennedy did who came to the subject much later, frankly s. and that also comes through. and just the other thing is what i think is sad for me at least as not a historian but as a student of it is that we don't have people keeping journals and writing letters anymore the way that arthur did. when i was working on "the greatest generation" and
subsequently my continuing interest in that subject, we love the british because everybody wrote it down. [laughter] >> well, you know, i think that he, his idea of liberalism was such that he started right after the second world war sort of prohotting the idea of liberal anti-communism. and this was a great movement. eleanor roosevelt, john kenneth galbraith, many liberals who wanted to make clear that liberalism did not mean communism. it meant -- it's a social change that was within the democratic process. and that's why my father in 1949 wrote the book "vital center" which is a kind of landmark book talking about how democracy is the centerpiece for his philosophy as between the extreme of communism on the one hand and fascism on the other. and i think that philosophy became such a part of his life
that if you read the letters that he had with various democratic candidates starting with adelaide stevenson and john f. kennedy and people, bill clinton, walter mondale, i can list practically every presidential candidate on the democratic ticket for those 60 years, they all turned to him because they realized he was kind of serving as a kind of liberal conscience to that generation of political people. and the a way they needed -- in a way they needed his validation to be able to appeal to the liberal constituency that he tended to represent. >> but a hard-headed kind of liberalism. >> that's right. >> which is where -- he was so close to stevenson and did not make the transition to kennedy overnight. could you talk about that transition to shift from libertyville to hyannis? >> well, that's very interesting because you used the word
hardheaded. he was very disappointed -- he, obviously, adored stevenson, e worked for him twice. but be at the same time, he felt that stevenson seemed rather passive on the issue of civil rights. and he was very, as tom points out, he had woken to that issue from having that visit in the mid 1940s to the south. and he tried to urge stevenson to make a commitment to protecting black voting rights in the south and also to the issue of desegregation which had arisen after the 1954 supreme court decision. and he just couldn't get p stevenson to move on it. you know, stevenson, while very much a liberal idealist, felt politically he couldn't take positions that would possibly upset his presidential ambitions. or and so i think that was a very, that became the hallmark of the way he related to john
kennedy and others. even while he worked with them, he felt incumbent on his role as a political adviser to present difficult and hard-headed issues to these guys and see if he could have any impact on them. >> he called up president kennedy an idealist without illusions. meaning that kennedy wanted the right things, but he knew how hard it was. >> well, the other thing, it's striking because i assume most of you in this audience know how very close he became personally to the kennedy family, and i think it's the first reference that i saw in here at least he writes about bobby, and he later wrote the great book about bobby after his death. but he said to the editor of the new york times in ten of 1954, robert kennedy's letter is such an astonishing mixture of distortion and error that it deserves comment. [laughter] and the times for arguing that the trouble lay not with yalta,
but with the subsequent violations. mr. kennedy suggested the agreement gave manchuria to soviet russia. china shall retain full sovereignty in manchuria. not that many years later he writes the most persuasive letter to "the new york times" about why bobby kennedy will be a good senator from the state of new york and why he deserves to run. so's not inflexible in terms of making judgments about things. but for me at least, watching that mind at work and watching him on the american landscape and not just going with the winds, but making strong judgments, this was an area that he knew well and probably did know a lot more than bobby did about what happened at yalta and was not afraid to pull his chain. >> well, in fact, that brings up a point which is he did become -- he got to know bobby very well when he was working in the white house for president kennedy, and he became very close to him. and i used to visit my father
when i was at law school when he was living in new york and i was living in cambridge, and he would take us -- he would often take bobby and myself and others out to dinner. and he and bobby would be sitting there talking about existential issues, about the issue of -- because his brother still suffered so dramatically from the assassination of jack kennedy. he would talk about issues like whether he still believed in god. i remember being privy to these conversations, and my father was the kind of person almost like a counselor to kennedy, that he would be willing to be that open with my tower and seek -- my father and seek his advice not just on a policy level, but also on a personal level. >> one of the things we haven't touched on, jon, is that when he was a white house counsel to the president and kind of an in-house historian keeping track, he was also writing film reviews. john was not kidding when he
talked about having correspondence with groucho marx. i loved to go to dinner with him if for no ore reason than -- other reason than to drop the name of the latest film. he loved the cinema. he was kind of the forest gump -- and i don't mean that in a bad way -- of historians. his paths crossed with everybody, you know? he would spend his summers in england or on the cape, and then he would be at the hairyman institute -- i mean, home in florida in the winter time, and he moved with ease and grace. and the letters would come through with this essential politeness even when he's pulling out the stiletto. he does it in a graceful way, but you always know where he stands. you always knew, and he was -- we were talking earlier, arthur died as happily as a man could given his appetite and inclination. he was in a steakhouse in manhattan. [laughter] >> it's true. >> which is exactly where he
would have wanted to exit. the civility question is interesting and the consistency question. in the earlier sol womb that andrew and stephen edited, a wonderful line where arthur has had lunch with henry kissinger -- never something undertaken lightly -- >> and says i would feel much better about lunching with henry if i weren't convinced he was saying quite different things when he lunches with bill buckley. [laughter] one thing you knew is that arthur was saying the same thing. so talk about that. >> that's true. well, we might say something that e had a long -- one of the, i think, the advantages of this book is it shows relationships with prominent people over a 50-year period. and you see how they change and how friendships change. and he and bill buckley used to debate, have vicious debates in front of crowds like this in the
1950s and '60s about the merits of conservativism and liberalism. and then, but other time once my father moved to new york and they started, this enmity sort of turned into an odd sort of friendship. and in the 1990s bill buckley wrote a novel about joe mccarthy which was very positive -- >> "red hunter." >> and he sent my father a letter which is in the book saying would you write a blurb for my novel about joe dzhokhar think? [laughter] >> joe mccarthy? >> and my father wrote a pleasant letter back, well, you haven't really persuaded me about the greatness of joe mccarthy, and i'm sorry i won't be able to give you a blurb. but ken galbraith did. they were even better friends. [laughter] >> both of you, did he have call ms as a historian about keeping, about making so many judgments
in a contemporary -- in the his journals and his letters making -- i mean, he's very tough on eisenhower when he's being inaugurated. the business interests are back in. there's been a whole new way of a thinking about the eisenhower presidency, for example, and john and i were talking about it earlier, in fact, he was behind the scenes playing a much more enlightened role than anyone knew at the time because he'd been to war when stalin died about trying to deal with the new soviet leadership. and it was a fairly daring enterprise. did arthur at any point say, you know, i might have had that piece a little bit wrong? >> well, you know, it's interesting about my father, even though he had deep skepticism about eisenhower, he was fascinated by american presidents as a historian. so almost as a professional observer, he could put aside his prejudices or his ideological
perceptions and see the person as a exercising power. and in one of the letters he writes to unknown correspondent -- because my father answered letters not just from, you know, famous people, but from the average citizen -- >> graduate students. >> graduate students and people who just had inquiries. and he treated them, by the way, with the same amount of respect that he did his letters to stevenson or kennedy or any of the others. he says, you know, i do not believe that politics should interfere with friendships. and as a matter of fact, because he took that position, he was able to maintain a relationship with bill buckley or first president bush. he was friends with h.w. bush who was, had been, he had a friendships with the family. and he kept them going. and he was friends with alan dulles, the former head of the cia. so he was, he maintained
relationships which crossed party lines. but it was partly because of this historical fascination with people in power. >> the other example of exactly this was he came to appreciate reagan's political skills. and when president reagan died, wrote a piece saying however much we may have disagreed, he understood the nature of the presidential office. and an important point, and i want to see if this puts us into today a little bit, a consistent theme all the way through was the power of the presidency. we've seen it for -- we saw it in an entire book for ill in the imperial presidency book. but early on, you know, he had in this view like will soften, like kennedy, like jackson that it should be the center of national action, that the president was the key figure in the system and urges bill clinton, urges al gore late in
the 20th century in their acceptance speeches, in their inaugurals to lay out vigorous programs of action for presidential leadership and then to follow them up with presidential education. his other subject, franklin roosevelt, being the great headmaster of america really in explaining things. what do you think he would make of president obama and the current health care moment if in. >> well, i'll go first. >> yeah. i would think that he would -- let's talk about the first four years -- that he would say that obama, he's invaded this presidential role that my father has said, you know, makes a great president. he hasn't used the power of the presidency and the executive office to get around this, you know, obviously, it's a terrible republican congress that is against everything he stands for, but he just, he's not the
strong president that my father, you know -- >> right. >> -- believed in. >> i might differ a little with that because i think when you look back at his first term, he did pass the this health care act which is having a tremendous impact on the american society and one that presumably will work in the end once we can solve all the problems with the web site is going to be what he will be remembered for. i mean, that is in the great tradition of the new deal, lyndon johnson and his programs and civil rights. it's something that he didn't have to pursue. he could have dismissed it as a lot of his advisers wanted him to and just focus on the whole jobs situation. but he also passed the stimulus bill, he passed the dodd-frank bill on reforming the financial industry. i mean, i think the first term because he did have democratic control of congress in the first two years of that term, he did take advantage of that.
something that johnson took advantage of when he became president in '65 when he was able to pass all his legislation for medicare -- from medicare to civil rights and so on. so i don't think, i think once he got into his second term and the congress was controlled, the house was controlled by the republicans, he's been stymied, and he can't really do very much no matter howell went his speeches are -- how eloquent his speeches are or how much campaigning he does around the country. >> what do you think -- we probably have a slightly different take on this -- what do you think his preparation for the presidency? obviously, obama came into office in the first term with the world collapsing around him. and even republicans will say, look, that was a tough, tough take for him. and president bush 43 actually said to hank awlson, i'd like to help you, but i would do more harm than good at the end. so that's where we were in the chaos. but now the second term comes,
and what's, i think, frustrating a lot of people who were obama supporters and were excited about him is there doesn't seem to be a clear idea about where he wants to go and how he wants to get there. we know from double down, the new book, that he walks into a staff meeting before the campaign finishes and says i want to go back to my agenda, climate change and immigration and the other things. and they're in a slight state of horror because they know those are not going to be the issues. so what do you think arthur would think about how we've prepared people for going to 1600 pennsylvania avenue and whether obama is somebody that we ought to look at as a model, if you will, about having very high bandwidth but never having done that before? >> well, i will say that that actually is an interesting point because, after all, franklin roosevelt had been governor of new york, so he had that sense of how you run a big organization. and a big state. and eisenhower had run the
military. but then you look at senator kennedy, he really didn't have any background in running a big operation, and obama -- also a senator -- comes in with very little preparation. and he's engulfed by this incredible storm on the economy. i mean, i think he's gotten us out of the worst recession since the great depression. that alone is quite an accomplishment. so i think, i would agree that his second term is stymied and that at best he can present an agenda which he probably understands will never be, never come into being unless the democrats retake congress, the house in the next congressional election. but at the very least, he can leave a legacy for future be presidents to look back on and say, well, obama wasn't able to complete it there, but we can do it in the future. >> in the introduction that's
reprinted in the series of biographies that artur edited for -- arthur edited for times books, john seigenthaler -- [inaudible] he quotes henry adams saying that a president of the united states is like the commander of a ship at sea. he should have a course to steer ask a sense of mission. tom, you have covered presidents back beginning with polk as i recall -- [laughter] so what do you -- where would you put obama -- >> on that scale? well, i'm going to take, seek refuge as historians do by saying it's too early to tell. [laughter] >> only time will tell. >> but what i think is -- i've been a journalist for 50 years, a student of the american political process every waking moment of that time as well, and i've been inside the gate a lot
during times of crises and triumphs. and my one overarching conclusion is no one is prepared when they walk through there the day after they've been sworn in. no one is prepared. i remember when there was such joy in washington, and it was, you know, we knew -- the country was absolutely divided on that day. we knew who filled up the mall, and then we knew there was mitch mcconnell plotting to deny him a second term. but we had a little discussion going, i think it was on the today show or during the long form coverage, and somebody raised the coverage how will he know when he's president? and they said, somebody said, he'll know when the butler comes in tomorrow morning and says, mr. president, your coffee and your breakfast is ready, and somebody be else said when the secret service shows up at your door to escort you down there. i said he'll know when he gets the foreign intelligence report put on his desk. that's when he'll know when he's president. and the magnitude of the office that he has stepped in and the responsibility that he now has
for keeping every american safe. and i don't think anybody, however long they've been at the job, is prepared for that, quite honestly. you look back at your father's friend, john f. kennedy, in the early days. the bay of pigs happened -- >> right. >> -- and the first pass at that. and they were still struggling. in the course of of doing this documentary, one of the things that becomes very clear to me is that his presidency, i think, was still a work in progress, and we don't know in the long haul about how it'll be judged. he was obviously more comfortable at the end. the cuban missile crisis was all that it's been said to be, it was a brilliant way of dealing with a very dangerous situation s. and he seemed to have more self-confidence. and he had a better sense of who his players were by then. by then he was beginning to sort people out, you know, i don't want to listen to him, i'm going to listen over here. so i think in the obama case there's still -- we're going to be looking in the rearview mirror for a while and seeing
kind of what's important. it's, for me, presidential power is endlessly fascinating and unfathomable in terms of answering it with certainty because it's so situational. you don't know what's going to from moment to moment. >> let's talk about this idea both of the politician in the arena and then what do we think the journalistic and historical obligation to folks who write and think about these things to try to educate the public on how the politicians need time to be educated? that is, we are not particularly patient in tribulations to use a phrase from john -- who's jfk's but st. paul's first. [laughter] credit the source. but we are not very patient many if tribulation and yet arthur, in writing about andrew jackson, in writing about franklin roosevelt who was seen as really the dan quayle of his time when
he ran for vice president -- that's not a good thing -- [laughter] before the polio in 1920, he learned. fdr earned. kennedy, from the moment of the bay of pigs and he reaches out to eisenhower whom they had not, i think it's safe to say, it had not been the warmest of transitions between the two, and yet there's that wonderful pulitzer prize-winning picture of the two men taken from the back as they're walking toward the cabin at camp david after the bay of bay of pigs where kennedy had called the old guy and said, help me, you know? and he was learning. and i would draw a direct line from the bay of pigs to the cuban missile crisis. what did he do? he didn't have a meeting during the bay of pigs, so he had a 13-day meeting in october 1962. arthur understand, i hi because of his own political experience and being in the arena, being in the white house, knowing that these things aren't always hoe herric narratives that these things do take time.
these are human beings. they're flesh and blood. >> you know, the other thing and i would just add to that is the best advice he was getting during that time was coming from your father about vietnam. historians, kenneth galbraith, your dad, because they had the long reach. >> yeah. >> it was the can-do crowd. kennedy as a student of history understood that and by then had taken -- can i just read to this audience marley one thing? i don't want to miss it about the candor of his advice. you're a fellow temperature yang, and actually i -- tennessean, and actually i interviewed him here the day he made the announcement about his vice presidential pick, al gore. this is june of 1999. this is arthur who's close to al gore. but this is why his, he had such value. it is essential that a presidential candidate feel comfortable and at ease with
himself and with what he is saying is and doing. no amount of pr polishing can headache people different from if what they are. it's always a mistake to go out of character. i'm not sure of the attempts to humanize al gore have always worked, the jokes, the mack rain that, etc. i would be especially concerned about confessionals. i would judge you should be what you are. can you imagine fdr speaking in this public or, indeed, in privacy about the way polio changed his life? he won people's hearts by talking about them. that was about as good a piece of advice al gore could have gotten going into the campaign. it was the first time i had seen that, but that was the value of these letters to -- >> you could almost take that value further. if you go to one of those other letters where he discusses al gore's choice of a presidential -- [laughter] where he pretty much makes it clear that he was very disappointed in that choice and felt that this man, joseph
lieberman, was a rather smug, pious and fundamentally not the kind of choice that a democratic president should be looking to. and he was, at the same time, praising al gore for all the other things he was doing. but he had to put that in to make clear that he wasn't going to be down the line in agreement with everything gore was doing. >> let's talk about rfk for a second because of the politicians we've mentioned, he was arguably the one who changed the most and was on a trajectory that was foreshortened so tragically in los angeles. he began, as tom read, arthur's relationship with him began with the bad bobby, the bobby of the mccarthy era, the bobby who was very much the enforcer, was much more conservative and ends by 1968 as really seeing rfk as
the great hope of fulfilling the promises, the spirit, the ethos of the new deal and the better parts of the great society. what was that journey like? >> with well, i think that the assassination of jack kennedy was such a profound and shattering experience for bobby kennedy that even as he had become very -- quite liberal during his time as attorney general in his brother's administration, it, you know, it was almost like the way fdr changed after he had polio. it was, it opened him to the sensitivity about poverty, about the impoverished in the country, about the issue of blacks and whites and the whole panoply of civil rights issues. it made him incredibly
vulnerable, and i think it, therefore, he became kind of a iconic figure in american politics as somebody who's drawn to the undertrodden populace of the american society in a way thatten abled -- that enabled, people saw that he could bring together the establishment with that poverty-stricken part of the population and kind of create a society that would work together to solve these problems. and it was -- but i do think it was the assassination more than anything else that opened him up in that sense. >> did, did your father ever talk to you after the assassination about the various conspiracy theories? i mean, one of the things that interests me in reading this and having been so deeply involved in it recently is that he refused to believe that bobby could have had anything to do with mongoose -- >> right, with the
assassination. >> the decision to take out castro. >> well, mongoose wasn't about taking out castro -- >> yeah. but the committee -- >> removing him. >> yeah, removing him. and your dad was in "the new york times" and other places, but as i remember at the end he said he was wrong on that. >> is that right? >> yeah, he did. he said that kennedy had -- operation mongoose was an attempt to sabotage the cuban economy after the bay of pigs failure. but it was not a, it was not a program designed to kill castro, which is the confusion that has occurred as historians look back on the event. but in the end, he -- i -- certainly, my father thought it was a big mistake. whether bobby with, i think, probably did agree with him in the end, that they had gone too far with that operation. >> well, let's not forget that before kennedy's assassination there were, there was a slight movement towards rapprochement
with castro in cuba and that part of -- you probably could elaborate on this, but one theory of the the assassination of president kennedy was that he would, you know, make some kind of arrangement with castro -- >> well, he had -- >> -- the soviet union. >> yeah, he had a lot of pressures on him at that point. and that comes into play about whether he would have stayed this vietnam or not. >> right, sure. >> i'd like to read one, you know, since you're talking about this, once comment about my father's relationship and the difference between john kennedy and -- >> bobby. >> bobby kennedy. in the end, he felt that he had gotten much more close to bobby kennedy than he'd ever been to jack kennedy. jack kennedy probably a difficult guy, you know, to get close to and understand. but he said john kennedy was a realist, brilliantly disguised as a romantic. robert kennedy, a romantic
stubbornly disguised as a realist. >> brilliant. >> bobby kennedy had the heart, and he felt the problems and the issues of the country. john kennedy figured out in his mind, and that was what my father -- >> don't you think bobby much more than his brother because of what he'd been through, he'd been through the trial by fire of his brother's assassination -- >> john kennedy had been through the pt109 experience. >> yeah. what i'm saying is the larger, kind of coz hick events, vietnam was not going well, the civil rights movement began taking hold, and i remember watching bobby. he was in california a lot, and i was on the trail with him, and of all the politicians i covered at that level, no one changed as much as he did, in my judgment. and, you know, at the end he could still be the tough guy. i mean, that final "meet the press" with gene mccarthy which he had mccarthy moving all those people from watts out
to orange county was a shot across the bow. and my guess was he probably would have gotten the nomination. >> do you think he would have beaten nixon? >> don't know. it's, you know, my favorite theory of hearn politics, jon has heard me say in the a thousand times, i offer it free of charge to vanderbilt which is i believe in the ufo theory, the unforeseen will occur. [laughter] i don't know what it's going to be. >> right, right. well, given that there is a live spirit of shakespeare, i think a second nixon -- a second defeat by ken key over nixon would have been fascinating. >> oh, yeah. >> the -- >> no. i'm -- for those of you who are wondering what i'm doing, i'm trying a new technique up here. >> he's playing angry birds. [laughter] >> i've got my, i've got the book on ipad, and i then went through the book and head them -- i told stephen this, i wrote down the pages that were of interest to me, an ipad you
can go to the location, type in the page, and then i can call up the things that i want to talk to you. you know, it's fine as long as your finger has the right temperature and it comes up when you want it to. [laughter] >> one of the things that i think we forget because we've talked about -- in fact, it's been, you have to keep your mind sharp to realize which kennedy we're talking about, which part of a new frontier of camelot, the great society, of this seemingly golden age of the democratic party and liberalism that i think many democrats look back on with undies guised nostalgia forgetting that the democratic party was deeply fractured then largely because of people in this region and farther south, even more so, the solid democratic south was a segregationist wig of the
democratic party. -- wing of the democratic party. you had -- arthur began, as we said, began with the eleanor roosevelt, adlai stevenson, more purist hubert humphrey, more social justice, more rapid action on civil rights, and the kennedys represented a l l cooler, more realistic attempt to really run to the right of richard nixon in 1960. he was talking about a missile gap, and he was not approving of it. he>> he was a cold warrior in te truest sense. >> and that's -- talk about that split. i mean, democrat, you know, will rogers i don't believe to an organized party, i'm a democrat. [laughter] it's now shifted like everything else has shifted to the republicans.
>> kennedy at that time is not conservative, but certainly centrist in his politics. and he's very concerned that kennedy never took a position on the censure of joe mccarthy. of course, kennedy had been in the hospital, so he didn't vote on it, but he never publicly -- >> profile in courage. >> exactly. [laughter] >> eleanor roosevelt. >> let's profile -- [inaudible] [inaudible conversations] >> let's profile -- less profile, more courage, according to eleanor roosevelt. >> whom you would not chasing you, i don't think. >> no. and he also was very concerned that kennedy wouldn't take a position on an issue like birth control. because kennedy was, you know, had to consider the catholic vote about that issue. so even before the nomination of this man there was feeling that maybe he wasn't as liberal as he was supposed to be. but once he got into office,
jon's absolutely right, he was stymied by southern democrats. he couldn't pass, frankly, any registration of note -- legislation of note that really would have been part of his agenda. he wasn't really, frankly, until lyndon johnson came in with a huge democratic heart in 1964 that all the issues like medicare and the civil rights acts and the voting rights acts and that kind of legislation finally came into being. so i think ken key tried -- kennedy tried as best he could to adjust to those realities, but he was very limited what he could accomplish. and i think it was very discouraging to the liberals who did support him. >> well, that's a part of the tragedy of his assassination as you were beginning to say. >> yeah. >> he got his feet on the ground, he's ready to move. and then -- >> he's gone. >> yeah. >> yeah. just looking at this audience, my guess is that a number of you
were around 50 years ago -- [laughter] that's a commentary on how well you look, by the way. [laughter] but how many were not, anybody in the audience, raise your happened if you were not there then -- hand if you were not there then. [laughter] jon was not. [laughter] >> which i think is irrelevant. >> the first time, i was writing for "newsweek", and jon was my editor, i said how old are you, and i think he said 12. [laughter] i don't want to go there. >> will the age has gotten lower as that story gets told. [laughter] >> but, you know, what's been interesting in doing this documentary for me is that trying to find that intersection between those who remember and were living through that and then those who have only the iconic images left for them. we brought in young people deliberately to look at the first or second screening that we were doing so we could see what their reaction was, what they -- what more they wanted and needed to know about him.
and it was a hot. it was a lot. they didn't know anything about the presidency. they knew he was glamorous and he had this beautiful life and the tragedy in the family. and these are bright young people, but for them it was ancient history and, you know, it was a long time ago. so it was a different time. >> well, as a matter of fact, a person this college today looking back on the kennedy administration is the equivalent of a person in college in the kennedy administration looking back on the first word war. -- world war. and i mean, 50 years had past, so you can understand how this thing becomes lost in the mist of the past. >> i have to remind you of one of the wonderful arthur stories which is about the proximity of american history which is sort of a related but slightly different point. the schlesingers lived in a townhouse this manhattan, and
one day they found out the townhouse behind them was on the market and a man from california had bought it. his name was richard nixon. [laughter] so one morning arthur gets up, and he's looking out the kitchen window, and he sees nixon in a business suit out getting the paper. [laughter] and he goes off to teach for the day, arthur does, and he's having a book party that night. and so the first person he sees when he returns to his home is one of the guests at the book party, alger hiss, to which arthur wrote: ah, the circularity of american history. >> right, that's right. [laughter] >> tom's going to find a lahr letter. >> yeah. i'm about to get there. [laughter] >> he's got this call of duty with dan can rather. -- dan rather. [laughter]
when you look at liberalism right now, you look at -- it's under assault from every possible way, every possible view, it's not a word you can really use anymore. we're being very unfashionable, we're being very retro. >> i think the word is now becoming available to the people. >> you think so? >> look at the bellagio in new york. >> that's true. >> and we can have a meeting like this and mention the word liberal. you couldn't do that 10, 20 years ago. >> they were nobody as progressives. >> andrew, you've said all that. you haven't read what's going to show up on the blog after we finish this session. >> that's right. [laughter] >> but it is a -- to by mind, we're discussing a subject of perennial significance but at a particular moment of urgency because president obama did do something with the affordable care act that democratic presidents had been trying to do, well, been trying to do
since t.r.. so for presidents of both parties, including president nixon, i should say, and the idea, i think, came from heritage. but it is not a moment where the natural american anxieties about government -- which is as old as the republic, older than the republic -- it does not feel as though those are are being tamped down and reassured by this more center-left era. it feels as though they're actually being razed. and i'm wondering what you think in thinking about this historically and practically through the lens of your father's work, your own work. >> well, you know -- >> what you think the future looks like, the next couple of years. >> it is interesting because as i said earlier, my father was a great proponent of activist government. the republicans have, what they have done by stymying everything in the house is try to disprove the theory that government can do anything.
and they do it by blocking all the kind of activist programs that might have worked had obama been able to get a majority in the house. and so they've established this mindset that why, why rely on government? it doesn't work. and we prove it by blocking all these programs. i mean, it's a very perverse kind of theory, but it's working. and it -- as you say, it does give people a sense that government really is not on tear side anymore. -- on their side anymore. it seems distant, it seems confused. the health care act, by the way, which is one of the reasons why the health care act is not working beside the issue of the bad web site is that i think about 25 states are controlled by republicans, and they refuse to set up these portals for, which would have been workable if they'd been on a state rather than a federal be level. so every effort to show that
activist government works is being blocked in one way or the other and, therefore, that feeds into the cynicism of american, that government can't work. >> and forecloses the fdr spirit of experimentation. >> yes. ..